The predominant theme voiced in Dearborn Heights’ annual Memorial Day ceremony at the St. Hedwig Cemetery and Mausoleum was combating amnesia and ignorance of what the holiday is about.
In giving his homily for the Holy Mass and Military Honors program, Father Tony Fox of the Order of Franciscan Minor Conventual (OFMC) told the audience that they were joining an entire nation “in lauding the courage and generosity and loving sacrifice” of fallen soldiers. Since not many present whose families had not been touched by World War I and World War II, he said, as well as more recent global conflicts, “as Americans, we do this well.”
While not wishing to glorify war, “because we all know that it is a dirty grubby tragedy” for both those “unfortunate enough to be led into unjust aggression, as well as for those who are called upon to defend against it,” Fox went on to say that still, “we must never forget” the fallen, and the legacy of freedom and democracy they left.
“For the fallen on all sides of a conflict, there are no winners,” he said. “It is we, their descendants, who inherit the fruit of their sacrifice. So on this day, we come to show our gratitude. First, and perhaps most simply, by remembering.”
While the secular media may be rightfully criticized for at times, Fox said, it does shine annually at this time in bringing words and images which help all Americans to remember the wars, battles and “the heroic struggles of their” soldiers, sailors, pilots, marines and “those who defend in any way.”
While voicing agreement that all there wanted to thank all the veterans present that day, and “we certainly want to keep to our memory all those who lost their lives to all of us so we could have our freedom,” Dearborn Heights Mayor Daniel S. Paletko shared “an interesting conversation” he had the previous week with some young men on creating a youth commission.
“And one of them said, ‘Well, you’re going to be over in—and I won’t mention the neighboring community—their Memorial Day parade and celebration,’” Paletko said. “And I said, ‘Well, we have a great celebration here in the city of Dearborn Heights.’”
The youth had responded that they had never heard of Dearborn Heights’ event. When they expressed disbelief that the mayor would not participate in a parade that “seem to go on forever” with every political person from national, state and local offices; Paletko said; something came to his mind. Paletko confirmed that they had recited the Pledge of Allegiance in school daily just as he had in his school days.
“And I said there’s the line, ‘One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,’” Paletko said. “Here in Dearborn Heights, we recognize ‘under God” by all coming together today in a religious setting, Memorial Day is a memorial to all of our veterans, and as the Pledge of Allegiance says, all of our freedoms and our rights, and I think we do it in a special way in Dearborn Heights.
“But really the credit should go to St. Hedwig’s cemetery and fathers…you know, the city is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and I know I have been coming to these events since the early ’70s when I was a young student at St. Linus Catholic School here in Dearborn Heights. I don’t know when the first one was held, but this is just fantastic, and on behalf of all the residents of Dearborn Heights, I want to thank you for putting this on, and it’s a very fitting way to remember all of our veterans,” Paletko said.
The guest speaker for last week’s ceremony, Col. Ron Faulk of the U.S. Army Reserves, followed with a story of his own, recalling a recent conversation which showed not only youthful ignorance that a ceremony was taking place, but even ignorance of the very purpose of the ceremony.
Faulk had read one of his favorite columnists “the other day,” who wrote a column on his experience of golfing with some strangers from the West Coast. The columnist struck up a conversation with one of the young men in his foursome, who happened to be around age 30.
“The dialogue that followed is very stunning,” Faulk said. “The columnist told his young companion that he was going to be flying to Normandy, France the next morning to raise a flag at an American cemetery there.”
When the columnist discovered he was mistaken in assuming his companion was joking in asking why an American cemetery would be in Normandy, he asked if the young man had seen the movies Saving Private Ryan or The Longest Day. After answering “no” to both, the golfing companion was asked if he remembered about hearing of the Second World War, and he answered that he knew there had been a war. The columnist then asked if he knew anything about D-Day.
“The young man looked at the columnist with a blank expression of bewilderment, indicating his total lack of familiarity with D-Day,” Faulk said. “A pity that such a monumental moment that changed the course of human history could be forgotten, or perhaps never passed along properly in the first place.”
Faulk cited the column to illustrate his point that since the holiday was first observed by the placing of flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in May 30, 1868; many Americans have come to forget the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day.
“Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service,” Faulk said. “While everyone uses the holiday as a mechanism to celebrate friends at beaches, barbecues and—my personal favorite—ballgames; at many cemeteries the graves of the fallen are increasingly neglected.
“Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette, or that Memorial Day is for honoring our fallen service members—not for honoring all who have died. A pity, since the beginning of the American Revolution, over one million American patriots have died in defense of liberty to secure the freedoms that today, we are fortunate to take for granted,” he said.
Faulk went on to recall some facts about the D-Day which the columnist’s golfing companion had been so ignorant about: 156,000 Allied troops embarking from 5,000 ships had assaulted a 50-mile stretch of beach on June 6, 1944, about two-and-a-half years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had brought America into the war. While fierce fighting secured a beachhead and landing point “through which to flow the forces essential to seal Hitler’s fate,” the cost was high as the Allies suffered more than 10,000 casualties (including more than 6,600 from the United States).
Faulk cited two more examples, the first being the June 25, 1950 full-scale night invasion by 10 divisions, routing the under-prepared 38,000 South Korean troops. The United Nations Security Council voted to send military forces, which established the Pusan Perimeter that could not be outflanked by the North Koreans. The strategic genius of Army General Douglas MacArthur conceived the Sept.15, 1950 amphibious landing of 261 vessels and 75,000 troops at Inchon. It severed the North Korean supply lines and led to the recapture of the South Korean capital of Seoul.
The other example was the first major battle between the regulars of both the U.S. Army and North Vietnamese Army in the Vietnam War, the Nov. 14-18, 1965 Battle of the la Drang Valley. The air mobile offensive operation code-named Silver Bayonet took place at two landing zones in the central highlands of South Vietnam, and is mostly known from the book and movie We Were Soldiers.
Faulk lamented that it would be unsurprising if many of today’s generation would not remember that movie from 11 years ago, and would not remember the battle or the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought the battle it depicted. He asked the audience if they could name any of the soldiers “who slogged out these battles,” or could name any of the Michigan soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in these wars (12,885 in World War II, 1,542 in the Korean War, 2,654 in Vietnam—including 13 from Dearborn Heights—and another 221 Michigan soldiers have died in the current conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, “in battles that were probably unknown to most”).
“Many other battles were fought in every war, but can you name any of them or their significance, the significance of desperate struggles between armies?” Faulk said. “Are these battles adequately discussed in our classrooms, or are we focused on other topics?
“It is often said that that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” Faulk said.
Faulk closed his speech by citing two Bible verses “that I believe embody the spirit of Memorial Day:” John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends;” and a second from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “Let us not lose heart doing good, for in due time, we will reap if we do not grow weary.” He reminded his audience that Michigan’s fallen “are you,” their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors.
Besides remembering, Fox listed other means by which people could show their gratitude for the fruit of the sacrifice of the fallen. Secondly, he said, they can be publicly honored in appropriate ways, so attending the St. Hedwig mass and other memorial commemorations around the communities across the nation “is very important.
“We can’t let ourselves become so preoccupied with the demands of our own daily routines, that we become careless, even ignorant, of the personal sacrifices made for our sake,” Fox said. “We owe our fallen.
“They have given us their very lives,” he said.
Thirdly, Fox said, gratitude is shown in wise use and valuing of “our hard-won freedom, and the growth it makes possible, as American people.
“Freedom to elect governments—freedom to remove governments,” he said. “Freedom of speech, of association, and most importantly among a gathering such as this, the freedom of worship.
“We must use wisely what the fallen have give their lives to preserve, and in our turn, we must be ready to give our lives for it also,” Fox said.
Fourthly, according to Fox, gratitude is shown to the fallen heroes is show by praying for the repose of their souls. The immortal soul that each man and woman has, he said, will someday come into the presence of God and be judged.
“And this is something as Catholics are very good at,” Fox said. “Each of the fallen needs our prayers, each of the fallen needs the redeeming sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“They died for an earthly city, and we pray as in the opening prayer, that our Savior who died to make it possible for entry into the Eternal City, may resurrect them in our true homeland, where he will give perfect peace for which they longed and died. I’m sure that many of us here who have attended military tributes at funerals of our fallen, whether it be those serving, and for those who are veterans, know very well that one of the moving parts of the tribute is the playing of ‘Taps.’”
Fox recited the lyrics to “that haunting sound of the bugle,” which he said was first played during the Civil War, when Union Army Capt. Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia in 1862. According to this account, Ellicombe heard through nighttime gunfire the moans of a wounded soldier, and after pulling him back to his own encampment, he discovered it was a Confederate soldier—and his own son, who had been studying music in the South, and enlisted in the Confederate army when war broke out without telling his father.
At the funeral, according to the story, the captain asked the bugler to play a series of notes he found in the pocket of his dead son’s uniform. Fox said that melody, first played for its composer, is now used at all military funerals, “where the souls of all our American fallen, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace, amen.”
The prayers of intercession made at the ceremony were offered on behalf of Pope Francis (and Archbishop Allen, and the clergy and laity), of the memory of those dear to the heart who were being honored that day (fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers), of all those buried and entombed at St. Hedwig, of civic leaders, of members of the armed forces, of those in need of prayer after natural disasters (especially that week in Oklahoma), of everyone celebrating Eucharist that day, of those assembled presenting their own silent personal and private intentions, and especially for those “who have gone before us, who have given their lives in service.
“Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn, at the going down of the sun, and in the morning we shall remember them lest we forget,” Fox added.
The U.S. Armed Forces Medley (Navy Hymn, Coast Guard Marching Song, Air Force Emblem, The Army Song, and Marine’s Hymn) was sung after the end of mass. After the guest speaker concluded, the officers of the John Lyskawa-Tutro Veterans of Foreign Wars, Carl E. Stitt American Legion, and Polish Legion of American Veterans then presented wreaths in remembrance of those who died in the nation’s service.
The wreaths were laid by Lyskawa Post No. 7546 Cmdr.-elect Robert Lucy and Trustee David Lee, by VFW Ladies Auxiliary President-elect Leah Lucy and Jr. Vice-President Shirley Lee, by VFW Mens Auxiliary President Michael Spurgis and Vice-President Vincent Spurgis, by Stitt Post No. 232 Cmdr. Ed Kempisty Jr.-2012 and Cmdr.-elect Cass Wegzyn-2013, by American Legion Ladies Auxiliary President Kim Frazier and First Vice-President Mariom Wagner, by Sons of the Legion Cmdr. William Barnes and Sr. Vice-Cmdr. Jamie Frazier, and by PLAV Post No. 16 Cmdr. John Cortez and Adjutant Jerry McFee.
The Lyskawa Post and Stitt Post joint military honor guard followed with firing off the gun salute and taps. Paletko and Dearborn Heights Treasurer John J. Riley II then laid a wreath on behalf of city officials to conclude the ceremony.
Memorial Day, originally Decoration Day, was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 in the General Order No. 11 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. The first state to recognize the holiday was New York in 1873, and was followed by all northern states by 1890. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring its dead on separate days until after World War I (when Decoration Day was changed from honoring Civil War dead to honoring Americans who died in any war).
Almost every state now celebrates Memorial Day on the last Monday in May (after Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971 to insure a three-day weekend for federal holidays), though several Southern states still have an additional separate day for honoring Confederate war dead (Jan. 19 in Texas; April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and Jefferson Davis’ birthday on June 3 in Louisiana and Tennessee).
In 1915, Moina Michael replied to the poem “In Flanders Fields” with her own poem:
“We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That the blood of heroes never dies.
She then conceived the idea of wearing red poppies to honor those who died serving the nation in time of war, wearing them and selling them to friends and co-workers (with sales proceeds going to servicemen in need). The VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies just before Decoration Day in 1922, starting their “Buddy” poppy program two years later to sell artificial poppies made by disable veterans.